Denial

He was in a court room, cold wood every side, jury in the foreground, I hate Mondays, twenty thousand words behind him, of evidence and argument, of black on white.

Last night he was in a bar, she was there and he was there. It was painful.

He had lived in this case for weeks now, knew every word and number. He ushered the jury by the facts. It was pre-meditated. The e-mails left unread. The blocked calls. Early signs. It wasn’t a difficult case but it was a well prepared argument. He was eager to prove he was right.

He was eager to disprove he was drunk. Because he had moved on. Emails. Calls. He had moved on, and he was probably with someone else. He definitely, definitely didn’t look drunk. He looked like he had moved on and she had missed her chance and he didn’t even think about her. He knew exactly how that looked.

The CCTV footage, placing the defendant at the scene. An involuntary glance to the side followed by another. Defendant. Wishing. He was anywhere but. The knife near the body. Cuts here, here, and here. Couldn’t be self-defence.

Couldn’t be. He glanced at her. Twice. Three times was hard to explain. He wished he hadn’t seen her, wished she hadn’t seen him. Wished he was anywhere but now. Felt every lapse in judgement. Felt his conviction slip away.

To hold her. The jury gone, feel the rush of the wait. Arms back, feel her weight. Innocent or guilty. Innocent or guilty.

Read More

Genesis

In the beginning there were no words. Formless, empty, the earth had no sigh. The world spun, the trees swayed, the waters waited for their first kiss. I slept on, I wasn’t born yet, I missed it. There was dark, there was light, on the first morning.

Man begat man begat man and there was love, I assume. What did the first man think of the first woman, was it love at first sight? What did man and woman tell their children love was? What did they say to each other when they met and was it good?

I walk through Glasgow city centre, late on a Saturday night, thinking about the first morning. The first sunrise, gasping for air. The first rush of fingers through grass, first touch of footsteps on sand. I imagine the sea hushed before the moon, the bright, bright green of the first flower, a blank page horizon. Glasgow wails like a newborn whose cord has been cut but in the beginning it was silent. In the beginning there were no words. I wonder what the first words were.

Now the pavements are crowded with new creations, a shadow leans across the street. I squeeze past, whispering to myself, a man shouting in my ear about something, I’m not sure what, just keep walking I guess. More shouting, more voices all at once:

Sparechangepal-Getyourhaunsaffmeyejake-Godcanyouhearme-Couldyousestepawafaethedoorspl-Gonnaenopushmeyewee-Sickfeelinsickgonnae-Lookwhereyouregoin-pushyeifIwanttaeyefat-richcominfaeyoupa…

Glasgow changed its clothes, its friends and the colour of its skin, tried to fit in, be accepted, be a type. A teenager ravaged by heroin sits folded into his t-shirt, soaked through and begging for change. Unaccepted, but feet still moving to the beat of the music blasting out a message from every wall and window. Girls stagger through the cold in high heels and high skirts, men shout through them as they pass. Lads and lassies, man created them, in its own image it created them.

There was dark and then there was light, on the last morning. In the end there were no words. Litter scarred the streets, heartbreak and headache bit through every flat and tenement. Man had begotten man who had begotten man and there was love, I assume. What had mankind told their children love was? What did the last man say to the last woman when they first met and was it good?

Read More

Compassionate Conservatism

They bundled me into a car – passenger seat, not the boot this time. My knees started to fold, anticipating the blows that didn’t come. The same people, the same car but something was different this time.

“How have you been?” the driver asked.
I couldn’t stop myself. I tried to forget the words I’d learned since the last time they took me - how to swear, how to accuse.
I still wake up in the middle of the night, I told him. I still jump at every sound, I check every locked door. Every day my six year old son asks me if the men will come again. That Christmas is a part of my family now.
I knew I should just stay quiet but the words had been waiting since the moment I learned them.

“They’ll be waiting for you.” he said with a voice that didn’t fit the words, that was eerily absent of threat. Don’t touch my family, I thought, but the words seemed to catch in my throat. I rubbed my hand against my shoulder, knew why I couldn’t fight them. This was different to last time but the feeling was the same. I tried to summon the strength to tell them how much I loved my family, how much I hated this car, all the things I’ve ever been or done and what I had meant to people. My voice bellowed in my head but squeaked in my mouth.
“I am Persian. Don’t kill me.”
It was meant to sound defiant.

The car pulled up at an airport. There were no other vehicles, no signs or luggage trolleys. Military, I thought. Military. And this was rendition.
“Here is your passport.” He placed it in my shaking hand. I felt the weight but not the touch and realised my body was numb. He got out the car with his partner, leaving me alone, the keys in the ignition, the engine switched off. I stare at the wheel, feel my heart pound and my hands freeze. Should I take my chance? Fear compelled me to escape, despair to follow them.
I step out of the car in perfect humiliation, ashamed at myself for giving up.

I had fled my home, but couldn’t get far. These soldiers were foreign to me but they may as well have been handpicked by the Ayatollah himself. They smiled as though they recognised me. As we walked through the main building I saw faces from back home mixed with stranger’s faces. The man who tortured my father. My mother, telling me that I could never escape, that I was never hidden. There was nothing I could do. I walked in step with my captors. They didn’t punch me. They didn’t knock down my door. Even though they had cuffs and batons, they hadn’t restrained me. They took away my pride and I followed willingly.

We walked through a brief complex of corridors and unmarked offices. No-one looked at me directly, no-one wanted to see my face. We stopped for a moment. My captors collected a briefcase and signed a piece of paper. I heard the plane before I saw it, engine running. Only metres away now. My body froze, as finally I decided I would not go. They placed a hand on my back and gently pushed me forward, as though they were helping me. I felt my feet stepping forward. My heart sank still further. I knew it was hopeless. But I wanted people to at least think that I had fought them.

Outside now, the wind lashed my face, Scotland saying goodbye. Every step was a memory deep. Zurvan playing with children his own age from the other side of the world. Walking through the city centre. Pollok park. Glasgow in snow. We suddenly stopped.

“In that suitcase is a change of clothes and a bank card registered in your name. The bank card will give you access to one million pounds GBP, for you and each member of your family quoted on your visa application which has now been rejected. You may go to any country you choose. The passport you have been given is a British passport. It entitles you to full protection and assistance from the British government in your chosen jurisdiction. Two additional passports are also contained in your luggage for your wife and son who will be conveyed to you separately for your security. If you return to this country you and any accompanying family members will be arrested and imprisoned immediately and the aforementioned privileges revoked. Where would you like to go?”
I process what he has said in pieces, shaking from shock and the cold.
“I am a British citizen?”
“You are a British subject.”
“Oh.”

“It makes sense if you think about it. We need to reduce immigration. You are poor. You might not realise it now, but you fled your country for market reasons. Yes there were other factors – torture, safety, the political situation but these are secondary effects. We’re saying we understand and we’ll help you. Now you can find your own way and get on. We will make the refugees rich so they can settle down elsewhere and perhaps eventually use their great resources to change the political landscape of the Middle East for the better. You are British. You have been changed by kindness. Once you were a refugee, now you are the new society.”

I didn’t know what to say, even in Farsi. I knew I’d have to learn new words again. Later I would reflect on what I should have said. I studied books about history and political theory. I would write about what I had learned in English and in Farsi. I tried to verbalise the feelings I had that day, with the words I’d learned since they took me away.

There is such a thing as society. There is such a thing as compassion, it just isn’t this.

Read More

Petulance

I’ve been breathing candle smoke
I’ve been caught with my own folk
Lightening the room
Listening to
the drip
the drab
drab
drab
drip

God, save me from the intellectuals
So
Cold of meanings
Cold and slow

Throw in a sentence
-The point! The big fat boring point!
touch together words
make an idea
pause for applause

I’m laughing

Smiling, part of, included…
Jokes, stories,
on a room on my own
feeling
-Ha!
feeling
-Yeah!
wait for it wait for it
Feeling shut out.

Read More

Communion

Take six from seven, take the stage and then the altar. Take a wife, a wife, a daughter. Take a deep breath, say:

This is life

Take the bread, take the wine.

Take, eat:

hold the bread and wonder what was given. This is his body. Hold. Wonder. Push away the words familiar. Push away the day, the hurt, the sinner. This is His body.

Eat, drink:

His blood was shed for you. You believe it but wonder why you have to drink it too. Surely this is only wine. It passes lips, passes the tongue, makes it past lies, passing through organs, soaking through blood and into the real world where the symbols live. Envy, jealousy, fits of rage. And now mercy, compassion…you’re thinking of him now - a thought of God stirs inside you. You partake of him.

You drop back for a moment. What is it, honestly, what is it? Why am I holding it like this? Why am I praying, eating, drinking, sitting? What does it mean? Real things can’t be symbols. You put your hand in your pocket, touch car keys, wallet. Take and eat. Focus on the bread and the wine and the saviour until there is nothing else. Take and meet.

“For as often as you take this bread and drink this cup… ”

“This is his body broken for you, this is his blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins… ”

Sometimes

There’s what he said, then there’s bread, there’s how many verses, which side of the altar? There’s all the reasons you shouldn’t listen to him, all the things you think when you see her and sometimes there’s hurt. Sometimes there’s family. Sometimes a dove. Where it settles there’s grace, after the flood. Sometimes there’s nothing. Sometimes there’s not. There’s bread, wine and God.

You hear the words proclaimed, you take, you eat, you rest. You let go of every part that doesn’t want a saviour. You feel the calm, savour the hope and the assurance of being rescued, share the symbol of the proof that we are hurt and we are loved.

Read More

Intercession

One
name.
One. Name.
One name over and over and over.

Pleading. Longing. Holding out your hands. Is this what your grandparents meant when they said they prayed for you? You’re not even sure what you believe. You can hear your mother speaking to you:
“Not a very good atheist.”
Maybe not. But you’re not asking him to exist, only to hear you. Is that rational? You’re not praying to a God you know could but rather a God you hope would. You want the irrational God right now. There are a dozen arguments in your head that keep the others at arm’s length but there is one name that brings you down to your knees. And you got the call. And he’s in hospital again. And you don’t know which one.

He must be an angel because you’ve never really prayed before. Since you’ve met him you’ve been crying and praying – more in three months than in your whole life. God. Can you hear me? God. Are you there?
Save him! He doesn’t deserve this, he means everything to me. I don’t care if you exist or not, you have to help him, you can’t not do it!

You’re past bargaining. Other men you might have tricked but not this one. What can you offer when you would tear the sky apart if you could, when every word is an earthquake through your lungs. There’s nowhere left to sink to, nothing left to cry. It’s four in the morning, you’re lying on the floor clutching your phone to your chest, hands twisting the edges. If there was something you could fight you would have, something you could buy or break you would have. You’re here because there’s no pretending. No pretending that you know what to do.

You used to pretend to read your Grandfather’s bible before you knew it was a bible. Before you could read. You’d wait until he was sleeping and find it. Take it out, sit your hand on the pages, turn them over. You wonder if God ever prayed for someone. Did he ever love someone enough to tear the earth apart, enough that he could die?

This is intercession. A place beyond love’s joy. A weight so heavy it could crush you. But still it’s only weight.

Read More